LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - President Bush praised Senate Minority
Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday for his "steadfast leadership"
to protect funding for troops in Iraq, and said the Kentucky
Republican has a "clear-eyed" view of the world and the need to
stay on the offensive against terrorism.
Bush called McConnell a friend and ally while speaking at an
evening fundraiser that brought in $2.1 million for McConnell's
re-election campaign and the National Republican Senatorial
McConnell, who took over as the Senate's top Republican leader
this year, has said he will seek a fifth term in 2008. No Democrat
has announced a challenge, but Louisville businessman Charlie Owen
is considering a run. McConnell, a prolific campaign fundraiser,
had $2.7 million on hand at the end of 2006.
Bush was joined on stage by McConnell and the senator's wife,
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. He called them the "ultimate power
couple" and praised McConnell for his effectiveness in the Senate.
"If you want to get something done in the United States Senate,
you go to Mitch McConnell," Bush said.
McConnell praised the president on two fronts - his stewardship
of the economy and his "going on offense" after the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks, a strategy he attributed for the lack of
follow up attacks.
In his speech, Bush defended sending more troops to Iraq to try
to quell violence in Baghdad. He said he worried the cycle of
violence would spread in the region and embolden the country's
"If we were to fail in Iraq, the enemy would follow us here to
the United States of America," he said.
Bush implored Congress not to cut funding for the troops, saying
it has a "solemn responsibility" to support the troops and to
"make sure that we have the flexibility necessary to protect this
"I want to thank Mitch for his steadfast leadership on this
issue," Bush said.
Soon after becoming Senate GOP leader, McConnell orchestrated
parliamentary efforts that blocked a nonbinding resolution opposing
the president's troop buildup. McConnell insisted that Democrats
allow a vote on an alternative resolution on funding the troops
that was more acceptable to Republicans.
McConnell's maneuvering drew fresh criticism from Democrats on
"Mitch McConnell has carried George Bush's water in the Senate
by blocking debate on the escalation of the war in Iraq, and now
the president is repaying the favor by raising millions for
Republican senators," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
Owen issued a statement accusing Bush and McConnell of leading
the nation "into an ill-conceived and mismanaged war." Owen also
accused the two GOP leaders of failing to tackle problems in health
care, education, energy policy and the environment.
Bush carried Kentucky twice in winning the presidency, but
growing unrest with the war contributed to Democrats picking up a
Louisville congressional seat in 2006 when John Yarmuth defeated
GOP Rep. Anne Northup.
A recent statewide poll, published in The Courier-Journal,
showed 52 percent of Kentuckians questioned said McConnell should
oppose the troop surge in Iraq, while 40 percent said he should
support it. The rest were undecided. The same poll showed 54
percent of respondents either strongly or somewhat approved of
McConnell's job performance. Another 23 percent strongly or
somewhat disapproved and 23 percent had no opinion.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the
University of Virginia, said the fundraiser posed some political
risk for McConnell, especially if the president's sagging
popularity doesn't rebound.
"But it's early," he said. "The truth is McConnell is stuck
with Bush's record, regardless. He might as well take the money. He
has nothing to lose and the money to gain."
Bush was interrupted repeatedly by applause from the hundreds
attending the fundraiser at a downtown hotel. In his speech, the
president gave a sobering update on the fight against terrorism.
"I wish I could report to you that it is over. It is not
over," he said, adding that the best short-term strategy is to
"stay on the offensive."
He said that McConnell "understands it as well as anybody in
"He's clear-eyed about the realities of the world in which we
live," the president said.
Bush said McConnell agrees with him that Congress should tackle
Social Security's looming fiscal problems. Bush said they agree
that bipartisan talks are needed so participants can "put your
best ideas out there."
McConnell has frequently mentioned Social Security as an issue
ripe for action despite divided power in Washington - with
Democrats in charge of Congress and Republicans holding the White
Bush also said he and McConnell would work for "substantial"
federal financial support for clean-coal technologies, a key issue
in a state that's one of the nation's top coal producers.
Earlier in the day, he visited a school in New Albany, Ind.,
across the Ohio River from Louisville.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)